Unions—organized labor—championed the creation of Labor Day and its celebration of workers. While authors are workers, too, we’re a pretty unorganized labor force. We spend most of our days staring at computer screens in self-imposed solitary confinement—a definite hurdle to organizing fellow wordsmiths to bargain for improved pay (advances and royalties) or contract terms. As a result, we either sign with an agent or become our own negotiators or publishers, for better or worse.
Yet we do join professional organizations, often flocking with other authors who share our interests. We become members to network, improve craft, gain/share publishing industry information, and, to a limited degree, to use our organizations’ clout to impact the marketplace. For instance, the founding of Sisters in Crime was driven, in large part, by the desire of women mystery authors to ban together and push for book review equality and visibility.
Here are just a few of the dozens of genre-oriented organizations available to authors. Where I could find current membership statistics, I included them:
· Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI): 22,000 members worldwide
· Romance Writers of America® (RWA®): 10,250 members worldwide
· Sisters in Crime (SinC): 3,000 members worldwide
· Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of
(SFWA): 1,800 members worldwide America
· International Thriller Writers (
ITW): 1,300 members worldwide
· Historical Novel Society (HNS): 985 members
· Mystery Writers of
(MWA): couldn’t find membership stats America
· Association of Christian Writers (ACW): couldn’t find membership stats
I’ve been a member of SinC since 2003 and RWA since 2005. I just joined
ITW. While I have no first-hand knowledge of the other groups listed, it’s probably fair to say the Boards of all these organizations are struggling to adapt to dramatic industry changes—e-books, new distribution channels, self-publishing options, small press growth, and bookstore declines to name a few. In addition, a trend toward genre blending makes it difficult to say whether someone writes romance, mystery, paranormal, suspense or thriller novels.
Some organizations have long based membership eligibility (or status within the group) on traditional publishing criteria, e.g. the author had to sell to a “recognized” publisher and needed to earn a set dollar amount as an advance and/or in combination with royalties for full “professional” membership status. Selection by a “recognized” publisher implied the work met professional standards. Many groups are backing away from such criteria as more and more talented authors choose to self-publish or sign with e-book or niche publishers to reach their goals. I’m all for this move toward more egalitarian membership standards. In fact, I love the fact that SinC membership is open to readers as well as authors. Our local SinC chapter certainly benefits from this membership mix.
Then there’s the matter of defining genre. A current controversy within RWA relates to a decision to eliminate the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements (NSRE) from its two premiere contests—the Golden Heart® for unpublished authors and the
RITA® for published authors. Many members of RWA’s Kiss of Death chapter (to which I belong) have expressed dismay at this decision, especially given that so many of today’s best-selling novels combine romance with other genres from paranormal and mystery to inspirational and young adult. Why exclude members from key recognition opportunities if romance is an important element in their craft and their novels might encourage others to read books with romance?
Do you belong to a genre-oriented writing organization? If so, what kind of membership standards do you want it to adopt? What kind of support do you look for from your writing groups--craft, marketing, legal/contract expertise, other?